Carla stares at me hard for a few seconds. I know what she’s thinking.
It’s happening again.
The Welcome Committee
“Carla,” I say, “it won’t be like last time.” I’m not eight years old anymore.
“I want you to promise—” she begins, but I’m already at the window, sweeping the curtains aside.
I am not prepared for the bright California sun. I’m not prepared for the sight of it, high and blazing hot and white against the washed out white sky. I am blind. But then the white haze over my vision begins to clear. Everything is haloed.
I see the truck and the silhouette of an older woman twirling—the mother. I see an older man at the back of the truck—the father. I see a girl maybe a little younger than me—the daughter.
Then I see him. He’s tall, lean, and wearing all black: black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He’s white with a pale honey tan and his face is starkly angular. He jumps down from his perch at the back of the truck and glides across the driveway, moving as if gravity affects him differently than it does the rest of us. He stops, cocks his head to one side, and stares up at his new house as if it were a puzzle.
After a few seconds he begins bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. Suddenly he takes off at a sprint and runs literally six feet up the front wall. He grabs a windowsill and dangles from it for a second or two and then drops back down into a crouch.
“Nice, Olly,” says his mother.
“Didn’t I tell you to quit doing that stuff?” his father growls.
He ignores them both and remains in his crouch.
I press my open palm against the glass, breathless as if I’d done that crazy stunt myself. I look from him to the wall to the windowsill and back to him again. He’s no longer crouched. He’s staring up at me. Our eyes meet. Vaguely I wonder what he sees in my window—strange girl in white with wide staring eyes. He grins at me and his face is no longer stark, no longer severe. I try to smile back, but I’m so flustered that I frown at him instead.
My White Balloon
That night, I dream that the house breathes with me. I exhale and the walls contract like a pinpricked balloon, crushing me as it deflates. I inhale and the walls expand. A single breath more and my life will finally, finally explode.
HIS Mom’s schedule
6:35 AM - Arrives on porch with a steaming cup of something hot. Coffee?
6:36 AM - Stares off into empty lot across the way while sipping her drink. Tea?
7:00 AM - Reenters the house.
7:15 AM - Back on porch. Kisses husband good-bye. Watches as his car drives away.
9:30 AM - Gardens. Looks for, finds, and discards cigarette butts.
1:00 PM - Leaves house in car. Errands?
5:00 PM - Pleads with Kara and Olly to begin chores “before your father gets home.”
Kara’s (sister) schedule
10:00 AM - Stomps outside wearing black boots and a fuzzy brown bathrobe.
10:01 AM - Checks cell phone messages. She gets a lot of messages.
10:06 AM - Smokes three cigarettes in the garden between our two houses.
10:20 AM - Digs a hole with the toe of her boots and buries cigarette carcasses.
10:25 AM–5:00 PM - Texts or talks on the phone.
5:25 PM - Chores.
HIS Dad’s schedule
7:15 AM - Leaves for work.
6:00 PM - Arrives home from work.
6:20 PM - Sits on porch with drink #1.
6:30 PM - Reenters the house for dinner.
7:00 PM - Back on porch with drink #2.
7:25 PM - Drink #3.
7:45 PM - Yelling at family begins.
10:35 PM - Yelling at family subsides.
His family calls him Olly. Well, his sister and his mom call him Olly. His dad calls him Oliver. He’s the one I watch the most. His bedroom is on the second floor and almost directly across from mine and his blinds are almost always open.
Some mornings he sleeps in until noon. Others, he’s gone from his room before I wake to begin my surveillance. Most mornings, though, he wakes at 9 a.m., climbs out of his bedroom and makes his way, Spider-Man-style, to the roof using the siding. He stays up there for about an hour before swinging, legs first, back into his room. No matter how much I try, I haven’t been able to see what he does when he’s up there.
His room is empty but for a bed and a chest of drawers. A few boxes from the move remain unpacked and stacked by the doorway. There are no decorations except for a single poster for a movie called Jump London. I looked it up and it’s about parkour, which is a kind of street gymnastics, and explains how he’s able to do all the crazy stuff that he does. The more I watch, the more I want to know.
I’ve just sat down at the dining table for dinner. My mom places a cloth napkin in my lap and fills my water glass and then Carla’s. Friday night dinners are special in my house. Carla even stays late to eat with us instead of with her own family.
Everything at Friday Night Dinner is French. The napkins are white cloth embroidered with fleur-de-lis at the edges. The cutlery is antique French and ornate. We even have miniature silver La tour Eiffel salt and pepper shakers. Of course, we have to be careful with the menu because of my allergies, but my mom always makes her version of a cassoulet—a French stew with chicken, sausage, duck, and white beans. It was my dad’s favorite dish before he died. The version that my mom cooks for me contains only white beans cooked in chicken broth.
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